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Saturday, September 27, 2014

Australian Farriers Seek Regulation of Profession in New South Wales


A farrier revolt has been brewing for some time in the state of New South Wales in Australia.

Some--but not all--farriers there are angry and they want their state government to take action. In what seems like a counter-intuitive plea to Parliament, the National Master Farriers Association of New South Wales is presenting a draft of legislation that would regulate farriery and bring unqualified and untrained "backyard" shoers and trimmers into the fold of formal education and apprenticeship training.



In an interview tonight with Hoofcare + Lameness, long-time association secretary Jim Middleton spoke calmly, passionately and determinedly about the competition facing farriers who have dedicated themselves to training through the state college "TAFE" system and apprenticeships and continuing their education through the association. The profession is seeing a dropoff in young people entering the trade via apprenticeships. Since they are not required, they are not being completed.

Jim suggested that many of the non-association people trimming and shoeing horses in New South Wales are employed in other jobs and work on horses for extra income or as a part-time job.

When asked if other states in Australia will pursue this type of legislation, Middleton suggested that his state association was the most financially capable of achieving the goal, and that the others would wait and see how and if New South Wales accomplished it.

Jim Middleton said that he will meet with racing interests this week and that the association has posted an open letter to horse owners in the state to ask them for their support. A draft document for the state legislature is also posted on the website, for all to see and download.

“I probably won’t see this in my lifetime,” Jim Middleton sighed tonight on the phone. Then he backed up and said he estimated it might take a decade.

Jim Middleton is a man who loves his profession very much. He is a proud representative of the farrier profession and serves as what we’d call paddock farrier and horseshoe inspector if he was here in the USA. He’s a gracious and generous representative of his association and the profession, but after many years of shoeing, his personal challenge is to convince the horse-owning public and his state legislature that the welfare of the horses is not being protected.

Background: Farriers aren’t regulated, but horseshoes are

The system in Australia seems confusing. Racing is very big business in New South Wales, with tracks like Randwick Racecourse among the most beautiful in the world. Racehorse breeding is big business north of Sydney, with the beautiful Hunter Valley serving as a nursery for hundreds of foals and yearlings each year.

Coolmore, Godolphin and Darley are just a few of the international stud and racing names that have invested heavily in New South Wales. But the investment has not extended to caring much about who is servicing these valuable horses’ hoofcare needs. 

Instead, in a strange inverse relationship, the horse industry cares passionately exactly what that farrier puts on the horse’s foot, instead of whether he or she is qualified to put it on.

Racehorse shoe, New South Wales, Australia
Is this picture upside down? This shoe is apparently legal on racehorses in New South Wales, although it isn't named in the chart. It's just there. It's not like you'd forget it. It's probably called the ram's head shoe, don't you think? (Master Farriers Association of New South Wales photo)

Think about that for a minute. The rules specify measurements for clip dimensions. Shoes are divided into standard and non-standard families. Only six types of pads, identified by specific manufacturers’ names, are allowed. Four designs of heart bars are shown, and we all know that that is a shoe that requires experience to be properly applied. And finally there is a shoe with no end up and no name, but it is allowed.

And that’s just for racing. Only about half the association’s farriers work on racehorses, Jim Middleton disclosed. The message is that the equipment is regulated, but the human capital is not considered an investment. But we all know that even the simplest shoes can be misapplied, whether by error or incompetence, and a horse's career or even its life can be in jeopardy.

Background: History of farrier organizations in New South Wales

The Master Farriers Association of New South Wales started with 300 members soon after farriery was made a legitimate trade in Sydney in 1906. Preceding it by four years, and continuing on until 1949, was the Journeyman Farriers of New South Wales, with about 80 members. They were employee farriers in the city shops and in 1913 went on strike when told they had to use machinemade horseshoes. But as far back as 1888, there are records of farrier groups meeting in Sydney. There’s a heritage of getting together and getting things done there.

Sydney declared the profession dead in 1949, when new apprentices were almost impossible to find. In an article in the Sydney Morning Herald, farrier Reg Riley testified that the 15 farriers who once worked in his district were down to three, and that he was the youngest--and he was 40. He only knew of two apprentices in all of Sydney at that time; farriers earned 10 pounds a week. It was not for a lack of horses to shoe.

Comment from afar

Now it is 65 years later, and everyone, apparently, wants to trim and shoe horses around Sydney. But should they?

Is it the horse owner’s right to hire an untrained person? Is it the horse owner’s right to determine what training qualifies a person to be able to care for his or her animals? Is it the state’s responsibility to represent the welfare interest of the animal? Is it the farrier association’s place to be bringing this up?

For whatever reason, the farrier profession does not mean the same thing to everyone in it. If you ask ten people, they will define farriery in ten different ways. To complicate matters, people tend to either see the profession as stagnant and stuck in the past or else as a dynamic, evolving profession. Or even, lately, as a family of professions. And some people deny being part of it altogether.

The Master Farriers Association of New South Wales wants to model its legislation on the Farriers Registration Act in Great Britain. But even in Great Britain, the highly-regarded Act is going through changes, as is the way that farriers are trained. What’s missing from the British discussion and the New South Wales initiative is understanding how and where the British Act and other farrier regulations have stumbled. And making sure that history doesn't repeat itself.

The most compelling shortcoming of farrier regulatory statutes in other countries has been the legal challenges to the laws because 1) farriery is defined through the assumption of applying shoes or 2) other laws on the books predicate how the law is interpreted. In many countries, farriery is narrowly defined as applying a steel shoe, which created a Grand Canyon of a loophole in Germany so that a separate farrier profession could spring up, based on using hoof boots and plastic or aluminum shoes, and bypassing the strict apprenticeship system. The same loophole helped the barefoot trimmers.

Ask any lawyer: Once language is in a law, it is hard to get it out. That’s why laws want to be precise, and it is also why some end up becoming unworkable or unenforceable once they get out of chambers and into real life. But in order to get legislators to cast their votes, a law must be specific enough to answer their questions.

It’s interesting that the MFA notes on its website that when the farriers of Australia’s gallant Light Horse Brigade returned from fighting on horseback in the Middle East at the end of World War I, they chose to either remain farriers or become veterinarians, a relatively new diversified workforce that Australia was building. Vets were scarce. Farriers, however, were on the first boatload of convicts to arrive in the early 1800s. And they kept on coming.

It appears that MFA sees and accepts veterinary medicine as a natural offshoot for farriers to migrate to after World War I but it doesn’t see barefoot trimming or part-time shoeing as having potential value for diversifying and even enriching the types of services that the farrier profession can offer.

The immediate future of New South Wales farriery under government-ordered regulation is designed with multiple-year amnesty for non-qualified practitioners to earn credentials and prove their worth. Legislation itself gets no second chance: you have to get it right the first time, and everyone has to agree it is the right legislation for them, the horses, the profession and the state.

But those are just today’s questions, the ones we know about now. The future is waiting with dozens more. A successful, sustainable regulation plan has to contain a vision of farriery that can move forward to cheers from all corners of New South Wales and become a model for other countries around the world. Because we need it, and here's a chance to get it.

 Resources:


Read an Australian newspaper article:
"Professional farriers seek industry regulation" from Newcastle, New South Wales

Background: Today in Hoofcare History: The Day the Australian Farriers Went on Strike



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